MLA Format Research Paper

MLA (Modern Language Association) is most often used when writing liberal arts papers such as humanities and history. Currently, the best handbooks to research this is the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd ed.) and MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th ed.).

General formatting guide

The best reason to use MLA for your liberal arts papers is because the style is very easy to understand and works well because the reader doesn’t have to keep skipping from the reference section to the text in order to understand the content being read.

The reader may see where the resource comes from and what resources prompted what bits of the essay, but will not need to skip to the reference section to fully understand why the reference in question is relevant to the point being made. This a stark contrast to referencing types that have the reference information appear on the same page as the quote/citation/reference is located.

Page sizes

If you are asked to print your pages, then it should be written on a standard white sheet that is 8.5 x 11-inch. If your work should be sent via an online medium, you may have to ask your professor what page sizes are the most suitable. In essence, it should look the same on the screen as it would if you were to print it out.

Number your pages

A header should show the page number of every page in the upper right corner of the page. It should be flush with the right margin and one-half inch from the top. Many professors ask that you leave the first page number off the project.

One space after punctuation

Only put one space after terminal punctuation marks. These include things like commas and semi-colons, as well as terminal punctuation marks such as full stops (periods) and question marks. This page has just one space after all punctuation. This rule should only be broken if your professor has requested it.


Use a legible font that is widely used on your campus. You cannot often go very wrong with “Times New Roman” or “Arial.” Your font size should be pt12, but some teachers ask for pt11 if a font such as Arial is used.


You should double-space your text, though this is not an iron cast rule. Some professors do not mind you using the default on your word processor, and some ask for triple spacing. Your professor will often choose his or her own preference, and it is usually chosen on the basis of making adding notes to your text easier for the professor.

Your margins

Most professors will prefer that you have a margin of 1 inch to all sides. This may preclude the professor from giving you a preferred page size because your word processor will produce a default page size once all the sides are set to 1 inch.


Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the margin on the left. You can press the space bar five times, but it is easier to press the TAB button. If you are worried that your TAB bar runs at more than half an inch, you should use it anyway–your professor will mention it if he or she thinks it is wrong. Indent the first line with the TAB button and your paragraphs should look like this one.


You may be tempted to put them at the end, but you need to put them in your work before your “Works cited” or reference, or bibliography page. You need to label the end notes as “Notes” or “End Notes” and you need to have them centered and unformatted.


You should use italics for titles of longer works. You may also need them to provide emphasis, but be wary of how much you use them as they may affect readability, which is something an overzealous professor may knock marks off your essay for.

The title page

You may be used to writing title pages for your other essays in other classes, but when using MLA you shouldn’t do it unless you are asked. Your professor will often give out the version of MLA that he or she would like you to use. This should say if you need a title page. If it does not, then assume you should not have a title page.

Capitalized case

Do not write your title in all capital letters; do not put it in bold, italics or quotes. Center your title and use capitalized case. It Should Look a Little Like This Sentence. There is a tool that can do it for you for free called convert case. Beware that the tool will capitalize all letter, and some shouldn’t be. Also, you should also capitalize the first letter of your title no matter what word it starts with. Here are some examples:

  • It Has Been Done Right on This Occasion
  • It Has Not Been Done Right Here
  • This Is Also Not Correct

These parts are usually capitalized in MLA titles:

•Adjectives such as
– angry, lovely, small

•Nouns such as
– man, bus, book

•Subordinating conjunctions such as
– as, because, that

•Verbs such as
– run, eat, sleep

•Pronouns such as
– he, she, it

•Adverbs such as
– slowly, quickly, quietly

Do not capitalize:

•Articles such as –
a, an, the

• Coordinating Conjunctions such as –
and, but, or, for, nor, etc.

•Prepositions that are fewer than five letters such as –
on, at, to, from, by, etc.